The most honest and in-depth reviews of outdoor sports equipment on the planet.

The New Volkl Mantra M5 (Ep.4)

2018-2019 Volkl Mantra M5 & Volkl Secret

From its initial release back in 2005, the Mantra quickly became one of the most iconic skis — and one of the most iconic ski names — in the world. And for the 18/19 season, there will be a new, 5th iteration of the Mantra, the Mantra M5.

Last month, I flew over the pond to check out the new Mantra (which will be released in the fall of 2018), to tour the extremely impressive Volkl factory in Straubing, Germany, and to speak to two of Volkl’s key designers: Tobias Heil, the head of R&D at Volkl, and Dominik Grunert, the lead designer on the Mantra M5.

You can listen to my conversation with Tobias and Dominik here, and you should. In the company’s 90+ year history, rarely if ever has a review publication been granted this degree of direct access to Volkl R&D and Engineering, and Tobias and Dominik were extremely interesting and candid when talking about the Mantra M5 in particular, and about Volkl’s guiding design principles in general.

So check out our conversation, then read below my writeup and initial on-snow impression of the new Mantra:

TOPICS & TIMES:

  • What were your trying to achieve with this 5th version of the Mantra, the M5? (2:28)
  • Talk about the changes and the guiding design principles? (3:38)
  • History of the Mantra (6:55)
  • Will this new shape and / or construction make its way into other Volkl skis? (9:35)
  • The women’s version of the Mantra — the Volkl Secret (10:08)
  • Which skis on the market is the Mantra M5 set to compete against? (12:20)
  • Of the 5 different iterations of the Mantra, which are your personal favorites? (13:38)
  • Dominik on the Volkl 100Eight (16:30)
  • Rocker Profiles & Flex Patterns (17:50)
  • Weight — what is Volkl’s position on construction & weight? (23:03)
  • The possibility of bringing back a limited run of the metal Katana? (25:35)
  • Predictions: where is ski design headed in the next 5 years? (28:15)
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Volkl Mantra M5 & Volkl Secret:

Specs, Design Details, and Initial On-Snow Impressions

2018-2019 Volkl Mantra M5

Available Lengths: 170, 177, 184, 191 cm
Stated Sidecut Radius: 17.9, 19.8, 21.2, 23.3 m
Stated Dimensions: 134-96-117 mm
Traditional Camber Underfoot: ~2 mm
Stated Weight: TBA
Core Construction: poplar + beech (in the binding mounting area) / fiberglass / titanal / carbon
Base: P-Tex 2100

2018-2019 Volkl Secret

Available Lengths: 149, 156, 163, 170 cm
Stated Sidecut Radius: 12.6, 14.2, 16.0, 17.9 m
Stated Dimensions: 130-92-113 mm
Traditional Camber Underfoot: ~2 mm
Stated Weight: TBA
Core Construction: poplar + beech (in the binding mounting area) / fiberglass / titanal / carbon
Base: P-Tex 2100

Intro

The new Mantra M5 (and the women’s-specific version, the Secret) definitely represent a departure from the current, fully-rockered version of the Mantra, and — much to the delight of a number of Mantra aficionados — the Mantra is back to having traditional camber underfoot.

The Mantra M5 has a moderate tip rocker line, with very little splay until the very tip. Underfoot, there is about 2 mm of camber, and at the tail, there is a very small amount of splay with a pretty short rocker line. (See our accompanying rocker pics.)

The Mantra M5 is also narrower — 96 mm underfoot (as opposed to the current 100 mm), and has a tighter sidecut radius (19.8 m vs 23.7 m in a 177 cm).

The new Mantra also features a new construction that Volkl is calling the “Titanal Frame.” Instead of two continuous layers of titanal (as in the previous version of the Mantra), the Mantra M5 has one full layer of titanal on the bottom, but the top layer of titanal is split into 3 pieces. The first two pieces frame the tips and tails with U-shaped pieces of 0.6 mm thick titanal. The third piece of the titanal frame is in the binding area underfoot, and it’s thinner (0.3 mm thick).

Sam Shaheen reviews the Volkl Mantra M5 for Blister

Volkl Mantra M5 — “Titanal Frame” Technology

The idea is to take out titanal where the ski doesn’t need it (in the middle of the ski and at the tip and tail, where there is a titanal void from the U-shaped pieces). This construction also allows Volkl to use a thinner piece of titanal underfoot which is supposed to let the ski flex easier and be more accessible to a wider range of skiers.

The new Mantra M5 also features a short sheet of carbon in the tips, which is there to help with nimbleness and quick turn initiation.

So how do all of these changes add up on snow?

Initial On-Snow Review — Sölden, Austria

While we will, of course, be spending a lot more time on this ski, I got a bit of time on the 177 cm Mantra M5 at Sölden, Austria. I skied a combination of excellently-prepared groomers with firm, biteable snow, and off piste, there were about 8 inches of heavily tracked-up snow leftover from a recent storm.

So I’ll offer my brief, initial impressions here, but we’ll save comparisons between the Mantra M5, the current (M4) Mantra, and to the direct competitors of this ski till we can A/B them on snow.

Groomers

The first thing that stood out to me was actually the tune; the skis were extremely sharp — as in, samurai-sword sharp.

When a ski is this well tuned, especially when skiing on firm groomers, it is sometimes difficult to separate the feel of the tune from the feel of the ski. Especially for off-piste skiing, I would want to detune the tips and tails. But for the on-piste conditions we had, the tune felt great.

Bracketing the tune of the M5 for a minute, I can say that the Mantra felt very intuitive. It was easy to initiate a turn, and the camber underfoot provided a good amount of rebound out of the turn. All I had to do was gain some speed, then lean over. The ski did the rest.

The M5 felt very directional, and because of that, it felt good when driving hard through the front of my boots. But the 177 cm M5 felt best to me when I skied from a slightly neutral stance. If I drove the ski too hard, I found that I could overpower it. The softened-up platform underfoot, (which, as you’ll hear more about in our podcast conversation, is touted by Volkl to make the ski more approachable with easier turn initiation), also seems to limit a bit the sheer power of the M5 — this is not a GS ski. But that said, get into the backseat, and the M5 will still protest.

So all that is to say that the new Mantra M5 feels approachable, but it definitely does not feel like a beginner’s ski. “Easy” and “precise” aren’t words that always go hand in hand when talking about skis, yet that’s how I would describe the Mantra M5 (on groomers, at least).

Sam Shaheen reviews the Volkl Mantra M5 for Blister

Sam Shaheen on the Volkl Mantra M5, Sölden, Austria. (photo by Boris Dufour)

The Mantra M5 also feels much happier on edge than going straight. The 177’s have a 19.8 m sidecut radius, and at least on my feet, they certainly liked to make medium-radius turns. I could coax the ski into making tighter or bigger turns, but the Mantra M5 felt most at home when bending into its sidecut radius rather than other turn radii. (This was also likely affected by the sharp tune; with a bit of detune, we might see different turn preferences from the M5.)

Perhaps in keeping with previous versions of the Mantra, I didn’t find the M5 to be particularly quick edge to edge; it is possible to make quick turns, it just takes a touch more effort. For me, the M5 liked to get into that ~ 20 m bend, ride it out, then slingshot me into the next turn.

Even though the ski has been softened underfoot in comparison to previous versions, the tips and tails of the M5 are still pretty stiff, and the Mantra M5 has a pretty decent top end. When making mid-sized turns, I never exceeded the speed limit of the ski. But when making longer turns or running bases flat on piste, I could. I think that part of this was due to the skis getting squirrely because of its tighter sidecut, and part of the speed limit is just due to the M5’s construction and flex pattern. And I think the 184’s would be much more comfortable bombing straight down steep groomers than the 177’s.

Off Piste

As I noted above, the Mantra M5 I skied felt perfectly tuned for precisely-carved turns on corduroy, which is not exactly the sort of tune that I would typically pick for skiing 8 inches of tracked-up and variable snow. So we’ll be saying a lot more about the Mantra M5’s off-piste performance in the coming weeks.

And given its particular tune, it isn’t surprising that the M5 I skied had a very locked-in feel in heavier untracked and variable snow. The ski didn’t want to slash or slarve high speed turns, it still wanted to carve through the variable conditions and deeper chop I was skiing. (And while we’ll wait to say anything definitive until we ski them back to back, I feel pretty safe in saying that the current, fully-rockered Mantra would feel looser in these conditions.)

That said, I think that on firm, wind-scoured or skied-out snow, the Mantra M5 is going to grip well and have enough damping and power to perform well in these conditions. We’ll definitely get them out in firmer and steeper conditions this season, and will be reporting back in our full review.

Bottom Line (For Now)

A lot of skiers out there will be excited to hear that the 18/19 Volkl Mantra M5 and Secret are incorporating once again traditional camber underfoot, and many of those folks may also be glad to hear that the skis are more piste-oriented than their predecessors.

We look forward to putting the new M5 up against the 17/18 Mantra, the Blizzard Bonafide, the Nordica Enforcer 100 & Enforcer 93, the HEAD Kore 93, etc, and we also look forward to getting a lot more time on the Mantra M5 around the entire mountain — in moguls, steeps, and trees — to learn more about its all-mountain performance and preferences.

NEXT: Rocker Profile Pictures

7 Comments

  1. Marcel December 18, 2017 Reply

    Metal Katana “stay calm and wait?” what does that mean?!? :-)

  2. Blister Member
    Tom December 18, 2017 Reply

    Nice quickie, Sam.

    “The ski didn’t want to slash or slarve high speed turns, it still wanted to carve through the variable conditions and deeper chop I was skiing.”

    Plenty of us still around looking for exactly these traits. Looking forward to more, once they allow a pair to leave Deutschland!

  3. Iain Sedgley December 19, 2017 Reply

    Sort of sounds like the M5 is Volkled K2 Pinnacle 95 – same lengths & similar dimensions, and ‘Titanal Frame’ doing the the same parameter weighting job as Konic Technology.

    A little disappointing to see the Mantra heading for the ‘All Mountain Skis // More Forgiving’ of next year’s Blister Buyer’s Guide – better look after my M4s!

  4. Michael December 22, 2017 Reply

    Maybe a good front side telemark ski for an experienced driver?

  5. Kristian December 23, 2017 Reply

    Bye Bye Mantra.I might be wrong but moderat fullrocker ski with proper metal is the best allmountain tool. M5 might be better carving pist with moderate speed and probably it will suit more people. Really hope the old Katana comes back but think the M4 was even more versatile.

  6. Dave December 31, 2017 Reply

    A few points to add to the discussion. First, kudos for getting this interview with the Volkl engineers. Their willingness to grant you such access and the candidness of their responses to your questions speaks to the seriousness with which the industry views Blister and is a testament to what you have built.

    Second, regarding the design change, I suspect Volkl took notice of the success of the Nordica Enforcer and initiated a design review. The Enforcer, with it’s traditional camber underfoot, is probably more similar to the M3 Mantra on 2D snow, but with updated tip and tail rocker profiles is probably is easier in 3D snow than the M3. My recollection of when the M4 was released was some hesitation in the community that the traditional camber was eliminated in favor of the full rocker (Volkl used to call this ELP, Extended Low Profile rocker which is a good description given that ‘full rocker’ or ‘reverse camber’ can conjure images of pure powder ski profiles with huge amounts of splay – Volkl’s interpretation of full rocker is more subtle and highly effective). As stated in the podcast, the full rocker has clear advantages in 3D snow of any type and I would say the advantages are more noticeable as the consistency and quality of the 3D snow gets worse. Perhaps some of the decision to change back to traditional camber is that the core Mantra following preferred the traditional camber and didn’t require the ease of the full rocker off piste, and that the typical skier probably spends most of their time on piste and traditional camber had clear advantages on 2D snow.

    One of the engineers said something about changes in weather patterns and snow quality leading to more time on piste. I think in the original German that statement probably sounded more like ‘market research suggests people judge skis by their first impressions which are almost always on piste and our core Mantra following can blast traditional camber through crud anyway’. The M4 is an all mountain ski for skiers who truly are 50/50 on / off piste whereas most consumers’ split for an all mountain ski might be more like 70/30 or 80/20. And when the conditions off piste are less than ideal (chopped up snow inbounds at the end of a powder day / after a thaw freeze cycle / crust layer and soft underneath etc.) most skiers probably don’t venture off the trail anyway (it can be a lot of work!) and this is when the full rocker really shines. My two ski quiver is the 185 Enforcer and the 184 metal Katana. The Enforcer works really well in most situations; it’s great on 2D snow and good in 3D snow (great if it’s lighter snow even if tracked up). But when it gets uglier off piste and the 3D snow has variable consistency, oh man those metal Katanas make you feel like a much better skier than you actually are. Especially for those of us who have to take a plane to get to the mountains and whose technique might break down a bit in nastier snow. And the ease of use in these conditions is because of the full rocker (the larger radius sidecut would have a second order affect here). And yes the Katanas still rail on groomers, and I might even like them better than the Enforcers when there’s a few inches of chopped up debris on top of a solid groomer base because you can just haul and never feel like one ski will get deflected and cause you blow up.

    Lastly, thank you for asking the Volkl team about the metal Katana. You have done a great service for skiers everywhere. Volkl, please bring them back, I’m horrible in crappy snow without them! Tinker with the profile of Titanal sheets like the M5 so you can call it an evolution and not a regression, whatever, just bring it back! (Should we start a write-in campaign?) The genius of that ski is how the flex pattern, sidecut and rocker profile all match so perfectly. It crushes crud and variable 3D snow and yet when you lie it on edge on a groomer the entire edge length makes contact yielding plenty of edge hold. Don’t tell Jonathan but I have a pair of 191s still in the wrapper. Like a fine wine, I’m saving them for a special occasion like when I finally move the family out West.

    • Sam Shaheen Author
      Sam Shaheen January 8, 2018 Reply

      Hey Dave, thanks for your input, I think you make some great points.

      And you might want to up the security on your garage, Jonathan really wants another pair of that 191 Katana…

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